Perceived efficiency and local consensus as factors shaping medicinal plant knowledge


  • Daniel Carvalho Pires Sousa
  • Washington Soares Ferreira Júnior
  • Yasmim Antonio Costa dos Santos
  • Joelson Moreno Brito de Moura
  • Ulysses Paulino Albuquerque



evolutionary ethnobiology, ethnobotany, human ecology, cultural salience, ecological anthropology


Environmental perception goes through physiological, psychological, and cultural filters and can influ- ence the selection and usage of species. Additionally, sharing cultural information is a crucial social strategy for our species’ survival. From this standpoint, knowledge that aligns with the local context is typically the most widely "expressed" and/or "replicated" by individuals. Building upon this premise, our objective was to investigate whether knowledge about local medicinal plants is influenced by certain adaptive factors, such as perceived efficacy, perceived availability, and perceived frequency of diseases. The study was conducted with 73 individuals from five rural communities in Vale do Catimbau Na- tional Park, Buíque, Pernambuco, Brazil. A free list of medicinal plants and their therapeutic uses was employed. Using these free lists, we employed a salience index to determine consensus within the local diversity. We employed a generalized linear model with a binomial distribution to ascertain whether perceived efficacy, perceived availability, and perceived disease frequency account for the local consen- sus. Of the three variables analyzed, only perceived efficiency explained the local consensus on the use of medicinal plants (p < 0.002). This result indicates that perceived efficiency is the key factor deter- mining the most popular medicinal plant when requested for memory recall, regardless of the perceived availability of the plant or the perceived frequency of diseases it treats. However, looking through the evolutionary perspective, the main question is to understand whether this factor is the only determi- nant in explaining the nature of the generation of medicinal plants’ salience, or if other ’cofactors’ of the social-ecological systems act together in an important way to guide this process as well.


Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM, Casas A (2015) Evolutionary ethnobiology. In UP Albuquerque, PM Medeiros, A Casas (Eds.) Evolutionary Ethnobiology. Springer International Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-19917-7

Albuquerque UP, Lucena RFP, Cunha LVFC, Alves RRN (2019a) Methods and Techniques in Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology. In UP Albuquerque, LVF Cruz da Cunha, RFP de Lucena, RRN Alves (Eds.) Humana Press (2nd Ed.). Springer New York. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-8636-7 DOI:

Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM, Ferreira Júnior WS, Silva TC, da Silva RRV, Gonçalves-Souza T (2019b) Social-Ecological Theory of Maximization: Basic Concepts and Two Initial Models. Biological Theory 14(2):73–85. doi:10.1007/s13752-019-00316-8 DOI:

Albuquerque UP, Nascimento ALB, Lins Neto EMF, Santoro FR et al. (2022) Brief Introduction to Evolutionary Ethnobiology. 1st ed. Recife: Nupeea.

Araújo TAS, Alencar NL, Amorim ELC, Albuquerque UP (2008) A new approach to study medicinal plants with tannins and flavonoids contents from the local knowledge. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 120(1):72–80. DOI:

Barrett B (1995) Herbal knowledge on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast: Consensus within diversity. Journal of Community Health 20(5):403–421. doi:10.1007/BF02260437 DOI:

Bernard HR (2006) Research Methods in Anthropology. Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches (4a edition). Altamira Press.

Caetano RA, Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM (2019) What are the drivers of popularity and versatility of medicinal plants in local medical systems? Acta Botanica Brasilica 34(2): 256-265. doi:10.1590/0102-33062019abb0233 DOI:

Casagrande DG (2000) Human taste and cognition in Tzeltal Maya medicinal plants use. Journal of Ecological Anthropology 4:57–69. DOI:

Casagrande DG (2002) Ecology, cognition, and cultural transmission of Tzeltal maya medicinal plant knowledge. University of Georgia.

Castro RA, Fabricante JR, Siqueira Filho JA (2016) A importância da palmeira Syagrus coronata (mart.) Beec. para a conservação da riqueza e diversidade de espécies epífitas vasculares na caatinga. Revista Árvore 40(1):1–12. doi:10.1590/0100-67622016000100001 DOI:

Chaves LS, Nascimento ALB, Albuquerque UP (2019) What matters in the free listing? A probabilistic interpretation of the salience index. Acta Botanica Brasilica 33(2):360–369. doi:10.1590/0102-33062018abb0330 DOI:

Clement YN, Morton-gittens J, Basdeo L, Blades A, Francis M, Gomes N, Janjua M, Singh A (2007) Perceived efficacy of herbal remedies by users accessing primary healthcare in Trinidad. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 7(4):1–9. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-7-4 DOI:

Dai X, Zhang W, Xu J, Duffy KJ, Guo Q (2017) Global pattern of plant utilization across different organisms: Does plant apparency or plant phylogeny matter? Ecology and Evolution 7(8):2535–2545. doi:10.1002/ece3.2882 DOI:

Ferreira Júnior WS, Albuquerque UP (2015) “Consensus Within Diversity”: An Evolutionary Perspective on Local Medical Systems. Biological Theory 10(4):363–368. doi:10.1007/s13752-015-0215-1 DOI:

Ferreira Júnior WS, Ladio AH, Albuquerque UP (2011) Resilience and adaptation in the use of medicinal plants with suspected anti-inflammatory activity in the Brazilian Northeast. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 138(1):238–252. DOI:

Ferreira Junior WS, Medeiros PM, Albuquerque UP (2019) Evolutionary Ethnobiology. Evolution & Diversity of Life 1–6. doi:10.1002/9780470015902.a0028232 DOI:

Gama ADS, Paula M, Silva RRV, Ferreira Júnior WS, Medeiros PM (2018) Exotic species as models to understand biocultural adaptation: Challenges to mainstream views of human-nature relations. PLoS ONE 1–18. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0196091 DOI:

Gonçalves PHS, Albuquerque UP, Medeiros PM (2016) The most commonly available woody plant species are the most useful for human populations: A meta-analysis. Ecological Applications 26(7):2238–2253. doi:10.1002/eap.1364 DOI:

ICMBio (2016) Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade

Khafagi IK, Dewedar A (2000) The efficiency of random versus ethno-directed research in the evaluation of Sinai medicinal plants for bioactive compounds. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 71(3):365–376. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(00)00164-1 DOI:

Ladio A, Lozada M, Weigandt M (2007) Comparison of traditional wild plant knowledge between aboriginal communities inhabiting arid and forest environments in Patagonia, Argentina. Journal of Arid Environments 69(4):695–715. doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2006.11.008 DOI:

Likert R. (1932) A technique for the measurement of attitudes. Archives of Psychology 22(140):1–55.

Medeiros PM (2013) Why is change feared? Exotic species in traditional pharmacopoeias. Ethnobiology and Conservation 2-3. doi:10.15451/ec2013-8-2.3-1-05 DOI:

Medeiros PM, Ladio AH, Albuquerque UP (2015) Local Criteria for Medicinal Plant Selection. In: Albuquerque U, De Medeiros P, Casas A (eds) Evolutionary Ethnobiology. Springer, Cham. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-19917-7_11 DOI:

Miranda TM, Amorozo MC, Govone JS, Miranda DM (2007) The Influence of Visual Stimuli in Ethnobotanical Data Collection Using the Listing Task Method. Field methods 19:76–86. doi: 10.1177/1525822X06295987 DOI:

Nascimento ALB, Lozano A, Melo JG, Alves RRN, Albuquerque UP (2016) Functional aspects of the use of plants and animals in local medical systems and their implications for resilience. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 194:348–357. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2016.08.017 DOI:

Omar S, Lemonnier B, Jones N, Ficker C, Smith ML, Neema C, Towers GHN, Goel K, Arnason, JT (2000) Antimicrobial activity of extracts of eastern North American hardwood trees and relation to traditional medicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 73(1–2):161–170. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(00)00294-4 DOI:

Phillips O, Gentry AH (1993). The Useful Plants of Tambopata, Peru: I. Statistical Hypotheses Tests with a New Quantitative Technique. Economic Botany 47(1):15–32. DOI:

Quinlan M (2005) Considerations for Collecting Freelists in the Field: Examples from Ethobotany. Field Methods 17(3):219–234. doi:10.1177/1525822X05277460 DOI:

R Core Team (2018) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. In R Foundation for Statistical Computing. doi:10.1098/rstb.2019.0498 DOI:

Rufino MUL, Costa JTM, Silva VA, Andrade LHC (2008) Conhecimento e uso do ouricuri (Syagrus coronata) e do babaçu (Orbignya phalerata) em Buíque, PE, Brasil. Acta Botanica Brasilica, 22(4):1141–1149. doi:10.1590/S0102-33062008000400025 DOI:

Santoro FR, Ferreira Júnior WS, Araújo TAS, Ladio AH, Albuquerque UP (2015) Does Plant Species Richness Guarantee the Resilience of Local Medical Systems? A Perspective from Utilitarian Redundancy. PLOS ONE 10(3):e0119826. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0119826 DOI:

Santos CS, Barros FN, Paula M, Rando J, Nascimento VT, Medeiros, PM (2018) What matters when prioritizing a medicinal plant? A study of local criteria for their differential use. Acta Botanica Brasilica 32(2):297–302. doi:10.1590/0102-33062017abb0336 DOI:

Saslis-Lagoudakis CH, Hawkins JA, Greenhill SJ, Pendry CA, Watson MF, Tuladhar-Douglas W, Baral SR, Savolainen V (2014) The evolution of traditional knowledge: environment shapes medicinal plant use in Nepal. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281(1780):20132768–20132768. doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.2768 DOI:

Saslis-Lagoudakis CH, Savolainen V, Williamson EM, Forest F, Wagstaff SJ, Baral SR, Watson MF, Pendry CA, Hawkins JA (2012) Phylogenies reveal predictive power of traditional medicine in bioprospecting. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109(39):15835–15840. doi:10.1073/pnas.1202242109 DOI:

Silva TLL, Ferreira Junior WS, Albuquerque UP (2020) Is there a biological basis in the selection of medicinal plants in the human species? An initial approach based on chemosensory perception of taste. Ethnobiology and Conservation 9(3):1–15. doi:10.15451/EC2020-01-9.03-1-15 DOI:

Silva RH, Ferreira Júnior WS, Muniz de Medeiros P, Albuquerque UP (2019) Adaptive memory and evolution of the human naturalistic mind: Insights from the use of medicinal plants. Plos one 14(3):e0214300. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0214300 DOI:

Slish DF, Ueda H, Arvigo R, Balick MJ (1999) Ethnobotany in the search for vasoactive herbal medicines. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 66(2):159–165. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(98)00225-6 DOI:

Sousa DCP, Soldati GT, Monteiro JM, Araújo TAS, Albuquerque UP (2016) Information Retrieval during Free Listing Is Biased by Memory: Evidence from Medicinal Plants. PLOS ONE (11):e0165838. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0165838 DOI:

Sousa DCP, Ferreira Júnior WS, Albuquerque UP (2022). Short-term temporal analysis and children's knowledge of the composition of important medicinal plants: the structural core hypothesis. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 18:51. doi:10.1186/s13002-022-00548-2 DOI:

Specht MJ, Santos BA, Marshall N, Melo FPL, Leal IR, Tabarelli M, Baldauf C (2019) Socioeconomic differences among resident, users and neighbor populations of a protected area in the Brazilian dry forest. Journal of Environmental Management 232:607–614. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.11.101 DOI:

Tomchinsky B, Ming LC, Kinupp VF, Hidalgo AF, Chaves FCM (2017) Ethnobotanical study of antimalarial plants in the middle region of the Negro River, Amazonas, Brazil. Acta Amazonica 47(3):203–212. doi:10.1590/1809-4392201701191 DOI:




How to Cite

Sousa, D. C. P., Ferreira Júnior, W. S., Santos, Y. A. C. dos, Moura, J. M. B. de ., & Albuquerque, U. P. (2023). Perceived efficiency and local consensus as factors shaping medicinal plant knowledge. Ethnobiology and Conservation, 12.



Original research article

Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 3 > >>